Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Posts Tagged ‘Video games and education’

Reading the text: Nicola Whitton interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on March 10, 2010

Nicola Whitton is a research fellow at the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University. Here she discusses her book, Learning with Digital Games, talks a little bit about her own experience with video games, and why her current favorite game happens to be peek-a-boo. 

Nicola’s blog: Play Think Learn

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Would you mind explaining what you do for a living? 

I work as a Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. The job is a mixture of designing and managing projects, working with people from academia and industry, and lots of reading and writing. My main focus is researching computer games for learning and I’m very lucky to have a job that is flexible and lets me explore the questions that interest me. 

How would you describe your book Learning with Digital Games: A Practical Guide to Engaging Students in Higher Education to someone unfamiliar with it? 

It’s a guide, aimed at anyone interested in education, to how computer games – and the principles that they embody – can be used to enhance learning. It’s split into three main sections, looking at the theoretical perspective, the practical implications, and the technical aspects. 

Why did you decide to write this particular book? 

For me, one of the big problems with game-based learning is that it’s beyond the means of most educators to develop the ideal game for a given situation. While I believe that games can present amazing learning environments that engage people in creative problem-solving, exploration and discovery, this is dependent on having the right game. The book aims to address this issue by looking at ways in which educators can both exploit the benefits of games in teaching and make developing or adapting games a possibility for a novice. 

Are you pleased with the way the book turned out? 

Pretty much, although I haven’t seen any sales figures yet… I ended up writing it in six months, which meant that I really had to focus. I think that if I’d had more time I’d have liked to put more in, particularly more case studies and research literature, but then without a strict deadline it would probably never have been finished at all. 

What audience did you have in mind when writing it? 

A range of people, but essentially someone who might not have a high level of technical skill or confidence. Teachers, lecturers, learning technologists, educational developers, learning designers, students. Anyone interested in computer games and learning, really. 

Could you please explain what your own background in gaming has been like? 

Mainly as a player. My first experience with computer games was when I was around five years old and my father used to take me to play games to the computer at his work – an Apple II – at weekends. The ones I remember best were Lemonade Stand (which I still attribute to a later interest in economics) and Little Brick Out (but sadly no similar enthusiasm for knocking down walls emerged). 

When I got my own Spectrum I became much more interested in adventure games, such as The Hobbit and Knight Time, and spent a lot of time using The Quill to develop my own games. It’s really this early love of adventure games, which continues to this day, that made me think that there was potential for learning there and to decide to carry out research in this field. 

As someone who has done extensive research on gaming, do you find it difficult at times to separate gaming for pleasure and gaming for research? 

Not really, because I don’t think I do separate them. For me, playfulness is an essential approach to work as well as leisure, so I tend to try and integrate a good measure of game-playing into my research. Likewise, while I might play a game for fun I am always, at the back of my mind, considering its potential for learning. 

How would you say computer games have influenced you as a teacher? How about as a writer? 

As a teacher, in two ways. First, by instilling a sense of fun and humour, coupled with a lateral way of looking at problems, inspired by games such as the Monkey Island series (of which I am a huge fan). Secondly, by highlighting the importance of context and motivation in learning through the use of meaningful goals with real purpose within the game or narrative context. 

I’m not sure that games have influenced me directly as a writer (other than as a subject to write about). I’ve always been interested in writing (and reading) fiction, as well as playing games, and my favourite stories involve mysteries or puzzles (I love a good detective novel or a tale with a really surprising secret). So I suppose that my tastes in fiction very much mirror my tastes in games. 

Specifically, what potential do you see for using MMOs in the field of education? 

I’m not sure that I would necessarily want to use them as they exist when designed solely for entertainment, because there are issues of access, cost, and appropriateness. However, I think that there’s an awful lot that we can learn from looking at the types of collaborative and problem-solving processes that go on in multi-user gaming environments, for example in terms of group work, team roles and mentoring. 

Are you a particular fan of MMOs? What has your experience with them been like? 

I like them, in short doses. I’m essentially a solitary gamer so they aren’t something I play a great deal. When I was at university in the early 1990s I used to play the local MUD (but it was really an excuse for meeting people and going to the pub) and more recently I’ve been playing Guild Wars but I don’t really have the time to put in to get the most out of it. 

What games (not necessarily MMOs) are you currently playing? 

Nicola Whitton

Since I have a five-month-old daughter most of the games I’m currently playing are of the peek-a-boo variety. I’m also getting more into casual games, such as hidden object and strategy games, which fit in with my more time-limited lifestyle (and don’t require your brain to be on top form). 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience? 

Just a thank you for reading this far, and a request to get in touch or have a look at my blog if they would like to know more about my work.

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Reading the text: J. Patrick Williams interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on January 15, 2010

J. Patrick Williams is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and coeditor of the books Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games and The Players’ Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming.  Here he talks about his experience working on Gaming as Culture, the challenges an ethnographer faces when doing video game research, his personal views on video games as well as his own background in gaming.

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Would you mind explaining what you do for a living?

I am Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where I do research and teach in the areas of social psychology, culture, and new media.

You are coeditor for the book Gaming as Culture. How would you describe the book? Why was it put together and who was it written for?

Gaming as Culture was intended to provide a serious, in-depth look at the culture of contemporary gaming. I’m a sociologist and social psychologist and so I had a clear interest in a certain way of studying games, but I was quite open-minded about what the book might end up looking like. I actually have a diverse intellectual background—I earned an undergraduate degree in anthropology, two graduate degrees in sociology, and also completed doctoral coursework in cultural studies in education. So when I decided to edit a book on gaming, I knew that there would be many different ways to approach games academically: anthropology, business, cultural studies, education, geography, media studies, psychology, sociology, and so on…each of these disciplines has scholars who have scholarly interests in games. At the same time, what constitutes “games” is equally as broad, and I had that in mind from the beginning as well.

The book’s existence is a tribute to the camaraderie that exists within the breadth of the games community. In 2003 I had just started as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Georgia and my wife had just started the doctoral program in linguistics there. One weekend I accompanied her to a linguistics graduate student party. As the night progressed I found myself standing around a campfire talking to my future friends and co-editors, Sean Hendricks and Keith Winkler. Sean had a PhD in linguistics and ran a media lab in the education college; Keith had an MBA and had just begun working on an MA in linguistics. We quickly discovered our shared love for games and began discussing all sorts of games we’d played previously: including D&D, Magic, and arcade and console games. I also remember lamenting how I never read any research on games and how it seemed like an untapped area of social-science research. What I was thinking was that gaming is oftentimes a very important part of people’s lives…so why weren’t scholars publishing much research on it? A week later I had spent a lot of time in the office scouring databases for games research and found that, except for a few monographs, there was little/nothing out there to serve as a resource for scholars interested in doing games research. I guess this gets at the second part of your question—why it was written and who it was written for. I wanted to give something to gamers who were interested in seeing their leisure pursuits from an academic perspective. I also wanted to legitimize games as a object of study for scholars and simultaneously to give something to students who might become tomorrow’s games scholars.

Are you pleased with the way it turned out?

It was my first experience as a book editor and certainly nearly six years after having started the project, I would do things a bit differently, but overall I am happy with the result (as are my co-editors). With Sean’s interest in education and linguistics, Keith having a background in business, and my own studies in sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, we wanted to spread the word widely to see what kind of breadth we could capture. We made sure to clarify from the beginning that we were interested in what we called “fantasy games” scholarship so that we wouldn’t receive submissions on “mainstream” games like poker or Monopoly. We specified role-playing, collectible, and video games….games through which individuals entered a fantasy world of play. Even in something like Magic the Gathering, there is an underlying assumption that players enact the roles of battling wizards. We found that to be the most important criterion for inclusion.

When the closing date for proposals arrived, I was a bit surprised at how many scholars were actively doing videogame studies specifically versus other types of games. We had more than fifty submissions and in this regard were forced to be very picky; there just wasn’t room to include so many papers. It was also apparent that all the papers not related to video games, as well as many of the videogame papers, were qualitative and micro-oriented. That’s why the subtitle of the book ended up being “reality, identity and experience in fantasy games.” That highlights the type of studies presented in the book.

If you had a chance to work on a newly revised edition, what additional topics would you like to see covered?

All of the studies in Gaming as Culture were North American, though it was not my intent to produce something only about North American gaming. What I found when reviewing all of the submissions was that the European scholars seemed to be focusing on video games. That’s not an accurate representation of fantasy games research, but it’s what I had to work with at the time. I remember one of the first reviews of book criticized it for not including Nordic studies of role-playing games. But no Nordic studies were submitted for consideration…. If I were to work on a revised edition, I would spend more time seeking out contributors from around the world in order to better represent the field.

The other shortfall I would try to address is the range of substantive topics. For some genres, like LARPing, we didn’t receive any submissions. I would like to stretch out in order to include a wider variety of game genres.

Would you mind giving us a brief overview of your own gaming background?

My mother was active in taking my brother and me to the library regularly as kids, and he and I both became pretty avid fantasy readers. By the age of twelve I was tearing through all of Ursula LeGuin’s and Anne McCaffrey’s books, as well as struggling with Tolkien’s prose. Fantasy books led me to fantasy games, and I had a group of friends that tried to make sense of Dungeons and Dragons without any real contact with an adult gaming community. I also got into painting D&D miniatures in the early 1980s, but had some problems with religious elements in my family who saw D&D as irreverent if not just plain evil. I moved away from games in the mid-1980s, but came back to them in the late-1990s while working on my Master’s degree in sociology. My next-door neighbor came over to introduce himself right after I had moved to this rural Appalachian town. He saw my Wheel of Time books and asked me whether I played Magic. I had heard of it but not played before. Twenty minutes in to his tutorial I was hooked. He got me into community and competitive play and I ended up doing research on a local network of Magic players (which you can see in my research chapter in the book). The next year (1997) when it came time for me to choose my MA thesis topic, he had just bought Ultima Online and I was fascinated by the idea of an online gameworld. I proposed to do an ethnographic study of UO but the proposal was rejected…there just wasn’t faculty support for doing that kind of research at that time/place. Looking back I really think it’s a shame because that study would have been ahead of the wave, so to speak, in the sociological study of online games.

Since then I’ve played pretty actively. I burned out on Magic and moved to Mage Knight around 2003 and invested just in time to watch it crash and burn. The next game from there was the card game Anachronism, which also crashed. I miss both of those games a lot and still play them whenever I get a chance. Now I spend most game-related time playing World of Warcraft, though thanks to eBay I’ve collected several playsets of Anachronism and try to pull people into playing it.

At your peak how much gaming did you do? How about now?

It’s hard to talk about peaks, because they’re different for different games. The first really heavy involvement I had was playing Diablo II. I had a few top-level characters and even got into farming items to sell on eBay. For Mage Knight and Anachronism I got into tournament play, so I was playing a couple of times a week at Tyche’s in Athens, GA, plus a couple of additional evenings a week building armies and decks. After I moved to Arkansas in 2006 (Mage Knight was dead by then) I ran tournaments for two groups of Anachronism players…so yea I was playing a couple of days a week for several hours plus prep time. I guess right now is another kind of peak because I’m raiding end-game content in WoW on two characters, which keeps me busy. The first two years playing WoW I literally played one night a week and that was it. But once I got into end-game content I found guilds necessary and thus there was a step-up in commitment in order to get to see the content at all. I probably play 15 hours a week currently—some weeks less depending on work and family life.

Are you a particular fan of MMOs? What has your experience with them been like?

I’ve played Diablo II, WoW, Guild Wars, D&D Online, and looked at a few others, here and there, including a little beta testing. I’ve really enjoyed WoW…it’s become the game for me. Actually I admit to struggling sometimes not to play. Even when I have other things to do, I tell myself “well, just do the fishing daily quest” or “just jump on and make a new epic gem.” Then I blink and I’ve been on for an hour when I really meant it to be on for ten minutes.

As someone who has done extensive research on gaming, do you find it difficult to separate gaming for pleasure and gaming for research?

Yes! But then again, I don’t know that they need to be separated. As an ethnographer, I do my best work when spending a lot of time immersed in the everyday life of whatever culture/social group I am studying. That is how an ethnographer learns to develop an insider’s perspective on things. I think this question forces me to expand my answer to the previous question: my “gaming” self and my “social psychologist” self battle sometimes over definitions of MMOs and their role in (my)everyday life.

As an ethnographer/social psychologist, I’ve focused my research on the significance of games in everyday life while working past what I consider narrowly-defined concepts like “addiction.” The videogame-addiction literature is extensive these days, but most of it relies on experimental designs or surveys, neither of which do much to improve our understanding of what MMOs mean to the people playing them. The “Internet Addiction Questionnaire,” used by researchers to decide whether someone is addicted to the internet, is a great example of what I dislike about psychological science today. It has been used to measure gaming addiction as well. Now if you take a look at the original questionnaire, it had eight questions to answer. If you answered “yes” to five or more, you were an addict. Some scholars will say “it’s been tested; you can see statistical significance between respondents’ answers and their reported behaviors….” But I suggest taking the survey and replacing the word “internet” or “game” with “wife,” “boyfriend,” or “child.” Suddenly you’re answering 7-out-of-8 or 8-out-of-8 with “yes.” But it’s silly to think that I’m addicted to my daughter or wife just because I think about them or want to spend more time with them.

Now back to your question: I see problematic behaviors associated with videogame play, just as with many other parts of life. As a social psychologist I recognize that I play too much sometimes or that I get too involved in the day-to-day life of the gameworld. My “gaming” self gets pleasure out of playing for hours at a time—I’ve got friends online to catch up with, or to help with quests, achievements….whatever. My “social psychologist” self recognizes that my playtime negatively impacts other parts of my life to some extent. So right now I’m working on making sense of my and people’s motivations for playing MMOs vis-à-vis the immersive aspects of game design. Bringing my “gaming” self and “ethnographer/social psychologist” self back together for mutual benefit, I’m doing a two-year project to study the concepts of motivation and immersion in MMOs.

On your website you mention MMOs “have the potential for new forms of learning among young people and adults alike.” Would you mind expanding on this idea a bit?

I don’t see games as separate from everyday life. A lot of people do…they see games as an escape, a way to take a break, or whatever. But even leisure is important—what we do for fun impacts the rest of our lives and vice versa. The same goes for learning: learning is something we do all the time, not just in school. Our schooling effects other parts of our lives, just as what we do outside school effects what we do in school. So I want to constant keep that idea out in the open….games, internet (or whatever) are integral parts of our selves. Sherry Turkle’s book Second Self gave a lot of examples of how people learned to develop aspects of themselves through their internet use. Today, I think James Gee does the best job describing this in a way that almost anyone can understand. He shows how playing videogames is a form of learning. Playing on the playground teaches kids basic social norms about reciprocity, friendship, status, inequality, and so on. They learn informally through doing. MMOs are social spaces where people do all these as well. So the point in what I wrote has to do with recognizing games as an important part of people’s everyday lives that has consequences not only for how we learn about the world, but what we learn as well.

How would you say video games have influenced you as a teacher? How about as a writer?

I have tried various ways of importing games into my sociology courses, oftentimes in small ways to help illuminate certain points. I use “serious” flash games as think pieces sometimes, but would love to spend an entire semester having students study a specific MMO and deploying their sociological knowledge to make sense of what they see going on. Games have also helped me as a professor outside the classroom, mainly in terms of service. I’ve served as the faculty advisor for student gaming associations at two universities, and actually started such a group at another university as a way of helping people who love games get to know each other. Going to university is a big moment for teenagers, and I have found that helping them get in touch with other students who share similar interests helps them settle into university life, sparks some of their creativity, gives them a social venue in which to de-stress, and provides a peer group for support. I’ve always seen games as a wonderful resource for bringing people together. As for writing, I can’t think of any effects video games have had to be honest. /shrug

Would you have any words of advice for aspiring writers wanting to publish articles or books on video games?

I think my first piece of advice would be: be serious about your research; learn about methods and theory and how to use both to your advantage. As a reviewer for several sociology journals, I get sent manuscripts on games to review and I end up rejecting most of them because the author’s “gaming” self overshadowed their “academic” self. In other words, they wrote about games because they love them, but not necessarily because they had something important to say about the empirical world or theory or method in their discipline (which is what academic journals publish).

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Having a baby that’s just a couple of weeks old makes it hard to be coherent in an interview about games right now. I hope I made enough sense that you and the readers will find something I’ve said useful. And thank you for taking the time to put this resource together. I’ve already gotten some good insight by reading your interviews with other people!

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Reading the text: Jeff Howard interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on January 8, 2010

In this interview Assistant Professor of Game Development and Design at Dakota State University, Jeff Howard, discusses his book Quests, his personal gaming background, what he thinks about the current quest system in MMOs and what current game has renewed his faith in the potential of online games.

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Would you mind talking a little bit about your book Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives?

Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives is a book about strategies for designing more meaningful quests by drawing on the traditions of allegory and symbolism in classical myth and literature. The book consists of a theoretical component dissecting the main components of quests in the history and theory of quest games and quest narratives: spaces, items, actors, and challenges. The book’s theoretical component is closely tied to a set of corresponding practical exercises and tutorials in level design, object creation, dialogue, and scripting. The main aim of the book is to help quest designers balance meaning and action, finding a middle point on the spectrum in which quests are both highly interactive and purposeful in ways that shift according to each player’s interactions.

Interested readers can learn more about the book at, and the book can be ordered from

According to your website, your dissertation was on Gnosticism, post modern fiction, and computer-assisted teaching. How much of Quests was born out of your research for your dissertation?

Very little of the text in Quests comes directly from my dissertation, and few of the specific topics in the book were covered in the dissertation. However, Quests did begin as an attempt to bridge the gap between the binary pairs in the dissertation: technology and mythology, game and narrative, literary theory and educational practice.

The dissertation was called Heretical Reading and had a lot to do with a second-century Christian sect called Gnosticism, which was labeled by the church as a heresy, as well as experimental postmodern novels. I’ve moved away from those specific interests while both focusing on and deepening my interest in game design in Quests. I think the main thing the dissertation gave me was a love of heresy in the positive sense of the word: going against the majority view or mainstream practice in order to assert a deeply held belief or value. I’ve tried to do that in Quests and my other ongoing work.

What audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

Anyone who wants to design better quests. This includes game designers, academics, teachers, and students.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting the book published?

I started writing the book as an independent effort, and one of the editors at a publishing company called AK Peters was kind enough to take an interest in my description of the book in a biographical note that I wrote for an ACM SIGGRAPH conference, where I presented a paper on quests. I talked to Klaus Peters, who owns the company in conjunction with his wife Alice, and then submitted a formal proposal along with an early, partial draft. A committee of reviewers read the proposal and draft and then provided me with suggestions for extensive expansions and revisions, which I did. This process was followed by many drafts and revisions, assisted by frequent correspondence with my excellent editor, Kevin Jackson-Mead, and the help of a good copy-editor.

Writing and publishing a book is a complicated endeavor, but the great work of AK Peters made it much easier and more pleasant.

What is your professional background?

I am Assistant Professor of Game Development and Design at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. I have a BA, MA, and PhD in English from the University of Tulsa and the University of Texas, respectively. I’ve been teaching in various capacities since I entered graduate school in 2000.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I am primarily a console gamer (Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox, PS2). I especially like action games (e.g. Assassin’s Creed II), horror games (Eternal Darkness and the Silent Hill franchise), and action RPG’s (e.g. Demon’s Souls and Oblivion). I have been gaming since I was young, when I was influenced by tabletop RPG’s, arcade, and adventure games.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds–more specifically MMOs? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Prior to a few weeks ago, I would have said that my experience of online games was unpleasant, but then I bought Demon’s Souls for the PS3, which has quickly become one of my favorite games. I have long believed that there would eventually be an online RPG that I liked, and this is the one, which re-kindles my hope for the genre.

I have played MMO’s, but they are not my personal favorite games generally speaking. When playing World of Warcraft, I was struck by the degree of mundane, repetitive tasks (kill eight Foozles and bring me back their tusks so that I can give you a sword for no particular reason). I was also distracted by the talking of thousands of people running around, which for me detracted from the solitary experience of what Joseph Campbell would call the hero’s journey: a voyage away from the everyday world and into a deeply personal encounter with the transcendent. I found it hard to look for the Holy Grail when constantly being forced to hunt for boars’ tusks and tune out the noise from multiple chat channels, which have to be at least partially attended to in a game where soloing is difficult and in some cases not possible. I had slightly better experiences with Lord of the Rings Online (because of its Epic Quest Line and the good company of my Fellowship) and Age of Conan (for its dark, mature world that was unfortunately marred by a broken launch and lack of end-game content).

Based on mostly negative experiences with MMO’s and a deep passion for other genres, I have tended to stick with what some have called “Massively Single-Player RPG’s,” like Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls IV and Morrowind or to gravitate toward non-RPG genres (e.g. console action games).

That is, until Demon’s Souls. Demon’s Souls is not an MMO but rather a single-player RPG with a massive and innovative online component. Because the game is so difficult, progressing in it at all requires a player to rely on hints left by other players as glowing runes (like “watch out for the ambush around the corner and try not to fall of the cliff into the pit trap with the gigantic leech monster”). By activating bloodstains left by other players, a player can watch spectral re-enactments of these players’ deaths and (hopefully) learn from their mistakes. Finally, when a player dies, he shifts from his live, physical form into a dead, phantom form. He is then able to assist other players as apparitions (i.e. multiplayer coop) and to duel them (i.e. PvP) in order to return to physical form. Demon’s Souls revolves around a single-player experience so complex and challenging that it is enhanced by online play rather than marred by it. Its combat and magic systems are also refreshingly sophisticated, combined with a dark, strange world and quest system that are both stripped down to their haunting, archetypal core and quirkily detailed. The game is difficult to describe and probably not for all tastes, but I love it.

I’d like to see more games like this in which designers find new ways to incorporate online play.

How would you say video games have influenced you as a teacher? How about as a writer?

My job is to teach game design, so by definition video games pervade every aspect of my teaching. From a very early age, games have served as a metaphor for me about the ways that people change a written text imaginatively by making interpretative choices.

There’s been a great deal of criticism aimed at the quest system in current MMOs. I’m sure you’ve heard the popular lament that no one reads the quest text anymore. As someone who has spent considerable time studying quests and quests systems, what do you see as ways to make this a more meaningful, integral process of the game?

Communicate the meanings of your quests through mechanisms other than dialogue and journal entries.

For example, use your world and level design to suggest to players the goals and purposes of their journeys. For example, designers could use the ascent up a lofty mountain peak bathed in light to communicate a player’s struggle to redeem himself or his world.

Design quest items that communicate the meanings of quests visually and through their function within gameplay, rather than having a player collect a generic placeholder quest item that takes up a slot in their backpack and then rewarding them with a +10 Longsword of Shinstabbing. As a positive example, remember Frodo’s ring: a simple gold circlet that communicates the corrupting influence of absolute power through an invisibility ability that attracts evil enemies and slowly drives its bearer insane when used too often or carried too long.

Use scripting (event-based programming) to implement quests that alter players and their worlds according to the moral and philosophical choices that players make. These choices don’t have to involve long branching dialogue trees but can take place behind the scenes as scripted flags that track player behavior and respond to it, either as an aggregate of group behavior on a server (cf. EVE Online) or of individual/party behavior in an instance.

When you do write quest dialogue, keep it concise and focused on enabling player choice rather than giving paragraphs of quest background with only the option to accept or decline the quest.

I formulated this suggestion in part out of a GDC workshop on interactive dialogue given by Daniel Erickson, the principle lead writer of BioWare, a company that has skillfully put their own advice into practice recently in Dragon Age: Origins. Most MMO’s probably should not have the volume of dialogue as Dragon Age given the existing problem with people not reading quest text, but I think it would be possible to practice a stripped-down version with short, punchy dialogue and quest updates that offer a lot of choices.

To be fair though, do you think that part of the responsibility for making the questing experience more meaningful falls on the player?

Absolutely. Because games are interactive, player experiences are largely derived from players’ choice and only partially shaped by designers. If players are frustrated with dull and repetitive quests, then there are many ways for them to enrich their own experience. For example, a player could join a role-playing server and affiliate himself with a guild of players who want to act out their quests in dramatic ways, plan out strategies for completing them, or memorialize their achievements in a guild hall.

Another suggestion might be for players to slow down a little. Rather than hoarding a long grocery list of quests and speeding to their conclusion, be selective about the quests that would most appeal to your character. If you’re interested in a quest, this interest might even justify stopping to read a bit of quest text. Quest text may often be bad, but the writing will only get worse if nobody reads it and gives feedback to the people who took the trouble to write it. That’s a vicious circle.

On that note, if a player is dissatisfied with the current state of quests, they should consider designing their own with one of the many toolsets and level editors currently available. The Aurora Toolset, the Elder Scrolls Construction set, or (more recently) the Dragon Age toolset are all examples; and there are also opportunities to build and program persistent worlds and private servers in some MMO’s.

Lastly, I’m not sure that I’d phrase players’ ability to make quests more meaningful as “responsibility,” but rather as an opportunity. I want players to have fun. If players would prefer to skip quest text, that is their right. If they enjoy grinding or raiding more than quests, then designers should provide ways for some players to level and progress without having to do quests. In that case, players who don’t like quests at all could ignore them, allowing designers to improve the quality of quests based on feedback from the players who do.

You are currently developing a game entitled Arcana Manor. What can you tell us about the game?

Jeff Howard

In Arcana Manor, the player wields a uniquely immersive and symbolic magic system to defeat the demons of a surreal Gothic mansion and unlock its secrets. Arcana Manor is a ceremonial magick simulator with an elaborate system of gestural sigils, tarot cards, colors, and sounds that makes players feel like true adepts, not mere button-pushers. In genre, the game would be closest to an action-adventure game or first-person action RPG, but neither genre label quite communicates what I’m trying to do. The game grows out of my interest in magic systems, which are the primary focus of my own current research and design. I started designing and prototyping Arcana Manor about a year ago, which involved teaching myself to operate the Torque Game Engine Advanced, do 3d modeling, script/code/debug code, and edit 2d textures and GUI elements. The game has been on hiatus during my past semester because I’ve had to prioritize grading student work, but I’m currently returning to Arcana Manor with a vengeance.

I also blog and tweet about Arcana Manor on and @arcanamanor


Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

I think there is a lot of hope and promise in the future of games, both single-player, multi-player, and all sorts of new systems of interaction that are only just on the horizon. If we keep an open mind and be positive, there will be different games for every taste and audience.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

November 2009 at Nanocon (DSU’s yearly gaming convention). I had the privilege of playing a D&D module-in-progress designed and Dungeon Mastered by a Wizards of the Coast employee. It was really fun.

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One shot: Roger Travis

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 4, 2009

An interview with Roger Travis, associate professor of classics and Mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut and Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World blogger.

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Roger TravisMMO community connection:

Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World

What do you do professionally?

I’m an associate professor of classics and ancient mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve gamed since I was very small; played D&D starting at age 10 and videogames since pong. I played NES in college but stopped in grad school and came back to gaming first with Age of Empires on the PC and then with Halo on the XBox. My favorite games these days are Lord of the Rings Online and the Bethesda and Bioware RPG’s.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds–more specifically MMOs? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

LOTRO is for me a way of living the fantasy worlds I loved so much as a child, and of reawakening in myself the ancient world I study. I’m pleased to have brought a great many friends into the game, and so playing is a wonderful social experience as well.  We have a weekly fellowship of Latin teachers, for example!

Would you mind talking a little bit about the Video Games and Human Values Initiative and what you hope to accomplish with it?

The idea of the initiative is to start talking about video games in a way that assumes from the start that they are ancient and valuable, and to go from there to measure and strengthen their vast potential to affect culture in a positive way.

How would you say videogames have influenced you as a teacher?

This semester it’s becoming clear that they’ve changed me forever. My experience in games has shown me that learning, which is always an adventure already, can be a completely transformative and imaginative adventure as well.

You are currently using something known as Operation KTHMA in one of your classes. Would you mind explaining what this is?

I believe that Operation KTHMA is the first course ever taught completely as a role-playing game. My students play as college students sent back by an all-powerful Demiurge (me) to 431 BCE, a crucial year for the birth of history and indeed for the birth of civilization as we know it. Their mission is to save Western Civilization by interpreting Herodotus and Thucydides correctly. That goal follows from an insight I had over the summer that instructional design and game design share certain absolutly crucial elements: both are about learning, and both are about putting that learning to use, whether in the real world or in the imagination. The goals and objectives of the game of Operation KTHMA are exactly the same as the goals and objectives of the course CAMS 3212, as which it is “disguised.”

Okay, now wait a minute. You’re a college professor who actually supports gaming and is even trying to find ways of integrating them into the classroom. I had a professor like you once…but then my alarm clock went off. I’m curious to know though what kind of opposition and/or criticism your vision has met with. Would you mind discussing that a bit?

Not at all. 😀 I’m very lucky to work in a small section of a big foreign languages department. That means that I get to decide what to work on and how to teach. Truthfully, the field of classics is actually always looking for new ways to bring itself alive—or at least there are always certain classicists like that. The old-fashioned ones tend to ignore us, perhaps in the hope that we’ll go away.

Speaking of dreams, what could you envision as being the ideal MMO for use in a teaching environment?

It would be an engine, I think, with a toolbox full of things like hoplite armor. Or, if we’re defining it down into something I could command someone to build, I think I’d have them build an MMO whose world was the Greek islands around 800BCE, with session-play instances a la LOTRO that transported you into various heroic epic stories. I have to say I’ve got a million of ‘em, though!

Who would you chose to be your GM for an epic RPG campaign?

A) Homer

B) Herodotus

C) Virgil

If Homer were a real guy, I’d choose him! Herodotus and Virgil are too focused on their own agendas for my tastes, so let me say the “Homer” (that is, the bard) of the Odyssey would be my choice.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Start demanding that your courses be taught as games. We need a revolution.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

I’ve been using d6’s for KTHMA, but I actually just ordered a big bag of every kind of dice so I’ll roll a d20 again soon. The real answer to the question, though, is probably 1989.

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